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Birds of a Feather: Monero Meets Panquake
Geek out with this interview of Sean O'Brien by MoneroTalk
Panquake is still pre-release yet its influence and thought leadership has already left an indelible print on the social media industry. This weekend, Panquake Founder Suzie Dawson will present another mic drop moment at Monerotopia 2023 and you won’t want to miss it. Grab your tickets here. Be sure to use Monerotopia’s promo code PANQUAKE for 10% off tickets.
Law. Privacy. Decentralization. Censorship. And how the Panquake team is building us all a way out of dystopia. Check out the below video and video transcript of Panquake’s Sean O’Brien talking to Douglas Tuman from MoneroTalk about all this and more.
DT: Sean, welcome to Monero Talk.
SO: How are you? Happy to be here.
DT: Good man, good. It’s a beautiful day here in N.Y.
SO: Beautiful here too. I’m in New Haven, Connecticut, so not that different.
DT: Birds are chirping. Trump is getting arrested. It’s a beautiful spring day out here in N.Y. It’s pretty wild. I guess we don’t need to go into that. We won’t go into any of that, guys, as compelling as it is. Today we’re here to focus on, well really first and foremost, getting to know Sean. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about you. I just recently discovered you through Csill from the Monero community. She had recommended that we get in touch with Panquake, get them involved in Monerotopia, which we’ve done. I believe you guys are going to be presenting. As a build up to that, we wanted to have you guys come on and talk about it, and through that I met Sean. Then through googling, Sean I see you’re quite the interesting prolific privacy character. You’re not just any regular Joe Schmoe. You have quite the resume. Do you want to quickly give a quick intro of yourself? Why you’re in this whole privacy tech world and all that jazz?
SO: Sure. Yeah, so I'm Sean O’Brien, for the folks who are just listening. I am a visiting lecturer at Yale University for cybersecurity. I co-teach that with another professor, it’s a lot of fun. I started getting into this space through working as a developer, as a sysadmin, and also helping out activist groups and legal clinics with being more anonymous, more private, more secure online. Showing them how to use things like Tor and other great technologies to try to make sure that they are not leaving too many tracks on the internet. So from that, I basically founded something at Yale Law School called Privacy Lab, that’s part of something called the Information Society Project. This is where we’re going with this big resume… It’s a lot of big words really. I’ve been involved in free and open source projects for a very long time, contributed to quite a few. And I’m the Chief Security Advisor for Panquake. So we’ve been working on this for a little over a couple of years now, just building something that I think is pretty amazing and will definitely change the world.
DT: Very cool man, very cool. We will definitely get into Panquake. Before we get there, so what is the Privacy Lab at Yale? Can you go down that road a little bit?
“So we’ve been working on this for a little over a couple of years now, just building something that I think is pretty amazing and will definitely change the world.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: Sure. Yeah, so we do digital self-defense workshops. So again the kinds of things I was talking about that, if you’re helping out undocumented workers, or you’re just helping out someone’s grandmother, and you want to show them a way that they don’t have to have targeted ads shoved into their faces. You show them how to use ad-blockers. You show them how to use all this great open source software that’s all around us. That’s a big component of what we do at Privacy Lab. Another big piece that we do, is we investigate, especially mobile and web apps. We look at privacy leakage. So we look at, for example, what people have now started to call trackers. That term can mean a lot of different things. But we’re specifically looking at snippets of code inside of these applications that the user isn’t aware of that you can’t opt into if you wanted to, and which, for example, can spy on your location. Can geo-fence you. Can track you everywhere you go. Can correlate that information with demographic information and so on and so forth. We partner with other groups, other non-profits and free and open source software groups. One of the ones which we’ve been very close to is called Exodus Privacy, that’s over in France. They have a database of, I don’t know even know how many thousands of apps at the moment. But if you go out there and you look, you’ll find these tracker profiles that will say, ‘hey your app has X amount of trackers in it. And these trackers do XYZ. They try to get camera access. They try to get microphone access. They try to get your location.’ Those profiles, we work with them to build. So we submitted the first profiles to that database, and then refined them over time with the help of, of course, community volunteers. And then that stuff ends up going upstream, like good open source stuff should. It ends up going upstream to what’s called the F-Droid project, which is basically a free and open source app store for Android. So all the apps that are in F-Droid are scanned against this database, and they don’t have those nasties in them. So it’s pretty fun stuff.
DT: Oh, so you’re part of that whole ecosystem, F-Droid? Interesting, very interesting.
SO: We’re a small component, but we’re proud to be part of it. And then the other thing, of course, we do, we run events. We bring in speakers and so on and so forth.
DT: Very cool. And so the hands on stuff, who is that really geared to? It’s geared toward, and maybe you said this already and I kinda missed it. It’s geared towards students? People at Yale? People in the law school? Or it’s geared towards outsiders that are coming in for these events to learn?
SO: We try to cater to audience to the best of our ability. We have a set group of materials, which by the way does need a little bit of updating, if anybody wants to help volunteer. But we have a set group of materials that we sort of remix for different groups. We do often bring in folks from the surrounding community around Yale, in that city of New Haven, Connecticut, which is also where I was born and raised. Sometimes we’ll do specific training and things like PGP email, for example, for folks who are lawyers or legal professionals and they need to know how to do this specific task. Generally speaking, we want to keep things light. I always want to introduce people to new technology, and just try to get as much across as possible in a short period of time when you’re doing a workshop, without completely inundating. The balance is not necessarily easy, as I’m sure you know, and the audience here, the Monero folks, know. There’s a lot of technology out to get us so to speak. Trying to spy on us, trying to surveil us, and so on. And when you do these workshops, you sort of ride the line of kinda talking about that scary stuff, and then talking about potential solutions, and you don’t want to scare so much that people don’t want to take the solutions, you know what I mean? So it’s a weird line to walk.
DT: And to just kind of dumb it down even further. Why is Yale Law School even interested in any of this to begin with? Why is this a thing? Why does this exist at Yale? I understand why you’re interested in it, perhaps, or we’ll get more into that, but why is Yale associated with this?
SO: Sure, so the part of Yale Law School that we’re in has a number of legal clinics, for example, that do amazing work. They’re always working on big cases, really important cases, high profile folks potentially, and folks who also need legal representation for, for example, Constitutional cases. So that’s one reason we have a good place there. Another reason is that everybody deserves privacy, right? I think there is a strong understanding that it benefits the Yale community to have this sort of, well we call it a lab, and have that there to show people what they can do to better protect themselves. Beyond that, privacy, this thing we call privacy has sort of morphed into every aspect of digital life. What we’re really talking about is sort of a digital sovereignty, or we’re constantly talking about speech issues. Those kinds of things that are sort of riding in this area. When we’re talking about being surveilled, we’re talking about potentially being censored. And those kinds of issues, of course, are very important to a legal school, especially one that focuses as much on Constitutional law as Yale does.
“There’s a lot of technology out to get us, so to speak. Trying to spy on us, trying to surveil us, and so on.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O'Brien
DT: And you have a legal background, in addition to a technical background?
SO: I do not. I am around lawyers constantly, and I work with lawyers very closely, but I do not. So it does rub off a little bit. But I am not a lawyer. Don’t take anything I say as legal advice, please.
DT: Because I wanted to go down the legal road a little bit, if you don’t mind. Just kind of like these ideals that the right to privacy are built upon. Can you give us some insight into that? I mean we talk about it on the show all the time, but it'd be nice to hear it come from somebody else like - why are we so concerned about privacy to begin with and and do we think there's essentially legal protections, perhaps, in the Constitution itself that gives people a right to privacy?
SO: Sure. So as far as I'm concerned, and as far as, this whole concept of the right to privacy would be concerned, assuming we had that in the United States… we don't really have a right to privacy enshrined in law anywhere in the US. Some other countries have paid lip service to it, but we don't even do that here. But anyway privacy is a fundamental requirement for exercising the other rights, for example, that you have under the Constitution. And this thing we call the Constitution in the United States is of course built upon older concepts around, you know, common law and so on and so forth. You can go back to Magna Carta if you really want to, but those concepts are really important for us to be citizens, first, and digital citizens as well. And the two are very intermeshed at the moment. If you don't have privacy, you can't have speech. You're going to be surveilled by not just the police state. You're going to be surveilled by the networks that you're in, by corporate giants and so on and so forth. And your voice will not be amplified or heard as much. We certainly see a lot of that if you're identified as sort of a miscreant, let's say. But in the US, the Fourth Amendment is usually what you hear about, and in this context you hear about unreasonable search and seizure. The idea that our personal effects should be free from being surveilled - you know, copied. When we're talking about digital surveillance, we're talking about making copies of your information, and thrown in some database somewhere and so on and so forth. Privacy, again, it’s a fundamentally important requirement for even interacting on the kinds of platforms that we're interacting on. We needed to have some direct conversations to set up this live stream that we're doing. And we need to have that space where we can talk to people directly one-on-one, as humans. So I think going further, if you really think about privacy as legal, but sort of beyond that… as a fundamental human right. It's required for everything we do. I tend to think of privacy as a fundamental right for autonomy, but also self-representation. If you're going to have power at all in this world that we're in where you're constantly online, constantly showing yourself, all these Cloud economies that are popping up and so on, you need to be able to be private, have private thoughts. And if you don't have that, the people who are most surveilled, those people are going to be the ones who have less ability to move through the digital world and have that autonomy - have that power, if we want to put it in the context of power. Basically they're just not going to be able to make it in the world that's being built around everyone. That's going to be accelerated. And we can talk about AI if you wanted to, but as, for example, more and more people have their lives scraped, categorized, and put into a bucket somewhere by some AI that's ranking them on some, let's say, social credit scale - which I think is coming - then privacy is going to be even more important. We need to be able to act, think… which is very fundamental, and speak and be able to keep some things to ourselves. It's also about how you represent yourself. You don't know me, I don't know you. We represent ourselves every second of a conversation with some sort of fundamental, neurological concept of who we are, and you can't have that representation without privacy. You can't even know yourself, if you can't keep certain things to yourself. And that's a really important thing to think about as well.
DT: I like that man. You go you go to the core of it, that's where I go as well. I had a quote, my pinned quote is “The elimination of privacy is the elimination of personal communication, and even inner thought. Privacy preserves individuality. If all value transfers are public and recorded, privacy is eroded. The erosion of privacy is the deterioration of the self. Monero preserves the self.” So in terms of Monero and Bitcoin. You know, yeah same core concept there. And I couldn't agree with you more, and especially as you're alluding to. In this day and age, it's more of a concern than ever obviously. I don't think our Founding Fathers had any idea where we would eventually be, in terms of technology, and what the Public Square would actually look like. And I think that's where Panquake starts to come in. So this is kind of a different core concept, but privacy tied into it. So this idea that our public squares are now currently run by large corporations that control social media. Twitter being one of them. And you guys are setting out to build something that's going to disrupt that, and I guess create a decentralized, I don't know much about it, but create a decentralized version of Twitter essentially is what the elevator pitch would be.
“If you don't have privacy, you can't have speech. You're going to be surveilled by not just police state. You're going to be surveilled by the networks that you're in, by corporate giants and so on and so forth.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: Yeah, so the elevator pitch is basically Next Generation short messaging service. So Twitter-like if you want to call it that, but there may not be a Twitter around for much longer, who knows? Despite the fact that we're on Twitter now, but anyway Panquake is a next generation…
DT: I thought this was my Dogecoin app, oh no ... I'm getting confused!
SO: Yes. A bit late on the April Fool’s I guess. Anyway, I like to think of Panquake and, it's not going to be the only replacement for advertising surveillance networks out there, but Panquake is a replacement for advertising surveillance networks. The thing that embodies the concept of the Internet as a Public Square. A place where people can have dialogue and conversations and follow news and meet new people. And feed their intellectual curiosity. Panquake is a space where we're taking all that very, very seriously. And we're making sure that it's a place that people actually want to be. So when we say close to the end…
DT: Where they own their data right so tying into the privacy element so where they they own themselves they own their data I assume. Is that, that's part of the value?
SO: So that sovereignty over your data, it's a huge thing. Basically, if we want to start getting past just the fun features, and there are a lot of fun features with Panquake as well, that we've been thinking about. But if we want to get into the security stuff, the model is basically local first, client-side computing. So your personal user data store is encrypted on your device. It's an easy sell for the cryptocurrency folks. We're all used to wallets now. We're all used to recovery codes and so on. That model is starting to change the world, and has done a tremendous amount in a very short period of time to change the digital networks that we use. Panquake is going to be the first social app in this space to take that very seriously to make sure that your data is on your device. But really where it starts is by not collecting data in the first place. We're not collecting huge profiles on users. We're not getting all this information, which these other networks are using for KYC, essentially. You can sign up for Panquake and give extremely minimal information, and then have your identity, tied to your machine or machines. So that's sort of the fundamental thing.
DT: What do you mean your identity tied to your machine or machines? Explain that.
SO: So literally you've got encrypted data, and you're logging in the same way you would with, let's say, a wallet like MetaMask, right, to the Panquake network. That's tied if you want to, to a subscription, so we have a flat five dollar subscription fee. It’s just a very nice, honest, simple revenue model for the network. You don't have to sign up for that subscription, that subscription just gives you certain features. Key features of the network, that you can't use if you just stay anonymous, but you will be able to interact with the network with a free anonymous account as well. So I go out to Panquake for the first time. I’m reading your, let's say timeline, and I'm looking at the cool things that you're posting. We call them quakes, the short messages. So I see your quakes. I decide to lurk for a while, and then I sign up. I set a handle for myself, then if I want to I can use that handle to also subscribe to the network. And now I have these other features, for example, a Panquake. So Panquake is, and you know it's very easy to accidentally say pancake because it's sort of that concept of stacking information. Basically, you can take quakes and stack them together and build a really nicely curated thread. And save that and share that Panquake with your user base. So it's one of the main features we're really, really proud of. It's all about positive amplification. So we've built in some other amplification tools that make it really easy to reach your followers. One of the pieces that current social networks, especially as they're sort of going down the tubes, in my opinion… but current social networks are making it harder and harder for you to reach your audience. So let’s say you build a business. You build a podcast. You build… you're an information activist, or you're an investigative journalist. How do you actually get the information out to the people who need to see it? That's getting harder and harder. So for example in Panquake we have a feature called Thunderquakes, which will basically set up a scheduled message to be sent by anyone who opts in to amplify that message. So I set up a Thunderquake. I'm going to release some big investigative story on Monday, let's say, and a message goes out to my followers saying, ‘hey would you like to participate in amplifying this message and participate in this Thunderquake?’ If those followers say yes, on Monday they just amplify that message out to all of their followers. So we're working on some pretty cool stuff beyond the privacy, beyond the security. But we start with that client first, user-focused model, and then we make sure that users can actually use the thing and care about their network and curate content to their audience.
DT: Very cool, very cool. How would you compare it to something like Nostr, which we're seeing gaining a lot of organic traction.
SO: Yeah, I'm glad you've pronounced that in real life now, because I've never heard someone actually pronounce it. I didn't know if it was “Noster”?
DT: I said it with confidence too. I have no idea.
How do you actually get the information out to the people who need to see it? That's getting harder and harder. So, for example, in Panquake we have a feature called Thunderquakes, which will basically set up a scheduled message to be sent out by anyone who opts in to amplify that message. - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: We’ll find out after this I'm sure, but I think that all those alternative networks are great. They're also thinking very seriously, obviously, about sovereignty over your data. About keeping things, you know, to yourself and not just sharing them in some centralized database. We've seen a lot of folks also move to the traditional sort of federated open source networks like Mastodon. A huge exodus a few months ago out there, you know, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of users going out to these Federated Services. Panquake is, well we're planning it and we're going to do it. We want to be the standard bearer for a lot of these sort of federations. So we're using the protocol ActivityPub, which is also the protocol that a lot of these federated services use. On the back end we're using, for example, lib-peer-to-peer (libp2p), which is an exciting technology that a lot of decentralized applications use. And we're going to be one awesome app in this federated ecosystem of apps. And really, as I said, championing… the standard-bearer for that kind of technology. I think it's great that people are hacking on all kinds of things, building all kinds of things, and we're going to need lots and lots of different solutions. Not just because of the so-called marketplace of ideas, where you want to have competition. I don't see it so much as competition. I see it as having different apps for different aspects of your communication, for different audiences in your life. And look - that's how we started this thing called the internet.
DT: Sure. So what niche do you guys see it taking on early on? Why would somebody potentially start using Panquake versus, whatever, a Nostr or a Mastodon or… Can you give us any insight into that?
“On the back end we're using, for example, lib peer-to-peer (libp2p), which is an exciting technology that a lot of decentralized applications use. And we're going to be one awesome app in this federated ecosystem of apps.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: Everything we do with Panquake, we want to make sure that the average mainstream user can relate to. So from the design, which is very bright and colorful and which has awesome graphics that are a little cutesy… food-based and so on and so forth. Going from that design to the interaction, it has to be something that my grandmother can use. It has to be something that gen Z also wants to use. We don't want to hit people over the head with the technology. You should just go into the application, feel at home, fall into the user interface, so to speak, and be happy with it. So we're really trying to reach as mainstream of an audience as possible in that sense. That said, if you look at the team behind Panquake, you'll see there's a lot of folks in the information activism space. In the Investigative Journalism space. Suzie Dawson, who's the founder, investigative journalist - also an amazing software delivery manager - but she also has done great journalism. So we think a lot about those cases. Journalists and even whistleblowers. We want the security and the privacy model for Panquake to be high enough that people can use it to disclose information that the public needs to know. And there certainly isn't enough of that recently. Folks publish interesting things. Folks publish investigative reporting, and it's getting buried in these other networks. You can barely find it, and if you do find it, it's barely reached anyone. So you know, we want to make sure that we cater to that as well. Part of my job is basically advising on these security models for different types of users. So we are going to walk users through… different levels of security. If you don't think your threat model is very high, and you're just going to post pictures of cats and dogs, well then, these are the settings we recommend. If you have something really important that needs to get out there now to a lot of folks… you’re a whistleblower, let's say, then these are the settings we would recommend. And that's sort of how we're going to walk the users through that process.
DT: And how, you know, censorship resistant is it, you know, at its core? Is it anything that gets posted on Panquake will forever be on Panquake. Is there, or are there means of some kind of control in place?
SO: So the most important thing to us is to make sure that we deliver on the promises we have to our users and, right now, our backers… the folks who have backed the project over the last few years, and a huge part of that is transparency. Blockchain is really good at making sure that you have an immutable record of information. And that you can go through and trace that information, and make sure that the transactions that happened actually happened. So for Panquake, we want to make sure that if we do moderate, and when we do moderate - and certainly there's going to be some content that has to be removed from the application - you will have a record of that moderation in the blockchain. When we talk to users, it's actually the most important thing for them. They want to know that they have sort of a fair process. They want to know that… they know what rules they need to operate by, instead of some unaccountable black box algorithm, or some algorithm that's gaming the system. As we just saw with the Twitter algorithm being open sourced, published. I'm not sure it's under an open source license, but it was published. We saw that certain topics were being gamed. We don't do that - there's no AI moderation. There's no timeline manipulation. There's no selling of user data. So that transparency of the moderation process is really important. I also think when we actually reveal what we're working on for our moderation model, it's not important what I think, or what, you know, Suzie thinks, or the other folks who are working on the project. We're coming up with a new model which will change the face of moderation, and that we hope that others will actually also adopt. So stay tuned for that aspect on the specific sort of technical, decentralization, censorship-resistance stuff. Of course, it's blockchain. We want folks to be participating actively in the network. We're going to be using trust models to rank different nodes, so that they have different levels of participation in this network. We're using something called Byzantine Fault Tolerance, or in this case Practical Byzantine Fault Tolerance, to come up with a consensus model, so that the network can operate in a truly decentralized way. Sharing around this blockchain ledger, essentially. And we're also going to have nodes transparently sending content using, for example, peer-to-peer, which folks should be aware of from the use of IPFS… the IPFS project. All that stuff is great, awesome, decentralized tech. We also are testing everything against Tor. We want to make sure we have a reasonable, good user experience for people using the Tor Browser, for example. We're aware of all these other mix networks out there. I mean I'm constantly showing people how to use them. I know Monerotopia is going to have somebody from Nym, for example, those kinds of networks we’re looking very closely at, and if we can meet those use cases, we want to make sure that our stuff runs there as well. The team's globally distributed. It's one of the most, not just talented, but globally distributed teams that I've ever worked with. It has to be the most distributed. So we also have an organization that's worldwide and I think that's really important. It's not some American, you know, in his garage - me, for example - coming up with everything and selling it to some VC, Silicon Valley, whatever. So I think that's really important.
DT: And so just give me further insight. So, how… so it isn't self-propelling? I mean, it's not like a crypto where nobody can control it. You guys can curate and control it, so what… so how does that architecture work where it's crypto, it's decentralized, but there's also essentially this centralized authority that has purview over it? Like how does that work out?
“We want the security and the privacy model for Panquake to be high enough that people can use it to disclose information that the public needs to know.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: Sure. So traditionally in blockchain there's two models. There's the permissionless model, where you do, for example, have a proof of work. You know, a model where you just basically spin up nodes and you mine, solve difficult problems, and you're on the network. We all know about staking etc., right, but there's also permissioned networks that are out there. This version of consensus, this BFT Byzantine Fault Tolerance is permissioned. Meaning that nodes have to operate in some way that's trusted to be able to have certain abilities on the network. For example, to verify and validate content. We've seen these kinds of networks in the past. Those of your audience who are aware of, for example, the Helium Network. It at least used to operate on this model. I'm not sure how much of it is doing that these days after the token sort of fell apart, but you know, these models work. You can make large distributed networks where the blockchain record is shared. Nodes can communicate with a lot of trust. You know that when you send a quake to Panquake it's being written to the blockchain, and you can verify it. And of course we're going to have all the bells and whistles like a blockchain explorer and so on. That said, we want to make sure that this public square, this public space as you call it, where folks are going to be communicating, has some sort of friendliness, is a place that you want to be. It's not just going to get flooded with spam, or who the heck knows what. So you have to have some level of moderation to do that. Our application will have certain rules, and folks who sign up for the subscriptions will have certain capabilities to use these fun features, if they subscribe. That doesn't stop anyone, of course, from looking at the blockchain record. It certainly doesn't stop people from extending and building upon what we're building, potentially even building other applications, that use the same blockchain ledger. We're taking extensibility very seriously, and we want to make sure we have API's that people can plug into. We want people to build and extend upon what we're doing. First we've got to get our application out. And our application is going to be the one that we build and love, and takes into account all these things that we're thinking about.
DT: So it's the application that's where the centralized component is taking place. That's where the curation takes place, but the blockchain is, you know, permissionless in that anybody can send out messages, and those messages get stored. And there's no censorship taking place there and theoretically somebody can come build their own version of an application that could interpret or decide what it wants to expose from the blockchain differently than your application. Perhaps being whatever, well can we start about the… what certain materials may be?
“We're taking extensibility very seriously, and we want to make sure we have API's that people can plug into. We want people to build and extend upon what we're doing.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
SO: Exactly, right, so… we saw this model with LBRY and Odyssee. It's very similar, where it's like, yeah, you can build another front end if you want to. But you know, the other thing I should say that's really important is we think very strongly about making sure the tech we build is humane. Those people I'm sure are very well aware of how they're being manipulated in these other social media stacks, and these other applications. They're sort of being treated like they're sitting on a stool at a casino. And we don't want to be doing that. So the user experience in the application has to be a very specific one. We want to make sure that people are amplifying in such a way that's positive at all times, as much as we can. We're thinking very strongly about some of the issues with addiction and social media. We're thinking very strongly about seeing the content you actually want to see. So when you're in Panquake, you're going to see the content from your follows and your follows only, and topics that you search, of course. So if you search for something you're going to see it. But that alone, that experience does require the application to sort of control that. And there's really no way around it.
DT: Yeah, well I mean these issues that you're talking about, and they're very real, are a product of surveillance capitalism, right? So because there's this desire to have control over people and the information, for purposes of making the app more engaging and more valuable, and more valuable to media, that maybe want to advertise there. So all these things feed each other in a loop. How does, I know Panquake is avoiding that with the architecture of their system, and the open source nature, and the blockchain based nature of it. But how are they avoiding the capitalistic aspect of it? I guess essentially, what's keeping Panquake going?
SO: Well we've got the flat subscription fee.
DT: Okay so it's the subscription fee, and is there something else as well, or is it going to fund itself through essentially people paying to participate.
SO: That's right, absolutely. So just flat subscription fee. I mean we are very serious about keeping that line. This is not a project that's trying to make a billion dollars. We're very skeptical of billionaires taking over social media networks. We don't want to have anything to do with this idea of just growing to some massive scale instantly when the doors are opened. If you look at the model that we're coming up with for release, we're going to have 5,000 users to start. So folks who are listening can… apply to our Beta. Give us a little bit of information so we can verify that you're human, and then if we allow you into the Beta, you get a reduced subscription. Actually it's three dollars a month for life, rather than five dollars USD.
DT: What if you pay with Monero, what's the discount there if you pay with Monero?
SO: We need to think about it. We're definitely going to be taking crypto payments, but we haven't done a reduced cost for Monero. That's a great idea, I think. And I love seeing stuff like that. But yeah, we want people to pay in crypto certainly. And that's another aspect I think I don't see too many other networks taking very seriously these days. But yeah, no manipulation. We don't want to be manipulating you. I mean the side of it that people don't talk about with this surveillance capitalism is that these behemoth Big Tech companies have had this waste. Who knows how much engineering that could have gone into awesome stuff… just to come up with methods to manipulate users into looking at ads, basically, and selling that data upstream to the Ford Motor companies and the Coca-Colas and so on and so forth. We're seeing that model fall apart. The advertising is not very good. It reaches people often after they've made a purchase, so if you go out and you buy a new Gillette razor, you might see a Gillette ad afterwards, not before… etc, etc. And we don't have anything to do with that. We don't have to build that stuff, so we can concentrate on the other things. But yeah, very honest subscription fee. And I will note, Suzie Dawson, who of course came up with this and really built the concepts that are now fundamental that we're going to deliver on, when she was talking to people they would say, ‘Hey you know there's no way that you're going to have a social media application that's funded by subscriptions.’ And we're seeing it everywhere now. Twitter's doing it obviously for the verification. And they're still spying on you. Facebook's going to be doing it for verification, and they're still spying on you.
DT: At least with this, you're actually getting something for that subscription, right.
SO: And, again, you don't have to subscribe. If you don’t your experience is going to be a little different. It's going to be more like browsing Twitter without an account. Or, you know, reading the news, let's say. You'll still be able to reply… and have some level of communication. And we have ways that we're figuring out how we're going to moderate that, of course. But if you really want to get out and get in there, you're going to want to have a subscription. We also have thought about, because we care about a worldwide global network, not just Americans, not just folks who can afford it. Of course there's plenty of poor people in the US as well. We're going to have applications for what we call compassionate accounts. So you basically can be on Panquake for free. When I speak to folks about this it's very interesting, there's a lot of people who are willing to pay more than five dollars a month if they know that some of that money, a pool of that money, will go to bring other users on. You know, basically donate accounts to other users. So that's also an interesting part of the model that we're building.
DT: And so other than, you know, you saying these things here… what's the promise like? Where, how is this? Where is this promise written? Is it just that you guys are this corporation that's saying, you know, this is what your ideals are, or is there some actual promise between the users and those that are controlling it?
SO: Just as with everything on the internet, we're known by our work. So we've been running a crowdfunding campaign for a few years now, doing monthly delivery meetings, we were doing for a very long time, where we basically showed different aspects, different improvements, talked about the timeline for development. The Panquake build was fully funded, now we're working on the support and help-desk kind of stuff. Making sure there's real humans, rather than AI chat bots, who are able to work with people for their requests. Let's say something… I don't know, there's some kind of issue that they're having with the application. We want people to talk to real folks. So we're going to be known by how we deliver on this thing, and how well we deliver on this thing, of course. Now we've also been doing some demos to folks who are… journalists, influencers, people who have podcasts. [We’d] be happy to show you a demo of the application and where we're at, and talk a little more about some of the things we haven't revealed publicly. But yeah, I mean we're known by our work. We're known by the caliber of people who've decided to support us. If you go out to Panquake.com, you'll see a number of people who have done amazing things in the world digitally, who have also decided to back us… and say ‘hey Panquake’s the real deal and here's why I think they're the real deal.’ So, you know, we'll get there. I can't wait till we release it and we prove to the world that we're serious about it. But as you said proof is in the pudding or, I should say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
DT: Yeah, maybe. Maybe. So I know you guys are going to be presenting in Monerotopia. I don't know if it's going to be you, or I think it might be Suzie that presents.
SO: That's gonna be Suzie, yeah.
DT: Maybe she could show us some, I don't know, some action, some Panquakes?
SO: Yeah, we'll have to figure that out, but as we get closer, of course, then we're more willing to show certain things. This kind of build takes an awful lot of work. It's been built with a lot of effort from a lot of different folks. We're also making sure that when we release the thing, we can release the source. So that takes a certain amount of, you know, making sure we're catering our code base correctly. We're putting everything together in a nice package. Licensing everything the right way in the free and open source software way, and also we want to have a serious open source community around this when we release. We're taking some steps very shortly where we're gonna have folks who are actively working on that aspect of it and, as I said, as that stuff starts coming out and people start knowing we’re the real deal, then we will prove. That's all I can say at the moment.
DT: You don’t want to release an undercooked Panquake, right. Nothing worse than a little batter in your bite when you're eating a pancake.
SO: There we go. That's the analogy I need to be using, right. You got to go back to the first…
DT: A little golden crispy edge on mine, yeah. Cool, man. So I know you're gonna hate this question. So when do you guys think you're gonna, you know, release? What's the date?
SO: It’ll be done when it's done. You know how it is with these projects. But I will say, you know, our team's been moving very fast. We really didn't get started right away because we had to raise money. You know, we didn't have some VC just dump money on our heads so we could hire. So it took us a little while to get going, but then when we started going, the app build has been accelerating very quickly. We're building, of course, the blockchain network. We're building distributed, basically media storage capabilities, media sharing capabilities. We're using, on the back end services, Nitter and Invidious, which are alternative front ends for Big Tech stuff. So if you embed a tweet in Panquake, for example, you're not actually just pulling in Twitter's spy code… that's an important thing for us. We don't want to go out of our way to build this thing and not spy on people, and then Twitter basically drinks our milkshake, right. So we're working on all that stuff, as well as the app build, and it's coming together pretty fast. So yeah I don't have a great answer for that. It’ll be done when it's done, but I think we're getting pretty close.
DT: I don't know, be nice. No developer likes that question, yeah.
SO: Yeah and again, you know, we're going to do this staggered release model, if folks are interested they should go out to Panquake.com, apply for the Beta, and you'll literally be the first folks in. So we're going to do that slow release as well, which I'm sure will frustrate some folks a little bit too. But we want to make sure we're delivering something that's usable, and not just flooded with so much traffic that we can't handle it. One of the things that we saw is a bunch of overnight Twitter clones pop up, which Panquake is certainly not a Twitter clone. It's much more complex than that, and much more awesome. But anyway, these Twitter clones popped up overnight because, people were angry at Elon Musk, etc. And they couldn't handle the traffic. People can't get in, they get discouraged, they're not going to use your network. You open the door to a massive crowd one day, and then the next day you have nobody who cares or even wants to interact. So we want to sort of build a community. That slower growth model is more like what we used to see on the internet, right. When you had a forum somewhere. Or you had an IRC channel or whatever. So we've learned from those old examples in the past, and we're building something on Web3 blockchain technology that takes that stuff to heart. There was a lot of good in this network before it got turned into a spy machine, right. Before the internet became the spy thing, there was a lot of good in it, and Panquake is a big part for us. It's our contribution to try to bring that back a little bit.
DT: Is there any coin involved in Panquake?
SO: We don't have any tokenization, and we're not going to be building that in. As I said with the extensibility piece, we don't know what's down the road with that. I'm sure there will be lots of folks knocking on our door once they see what we deliver. But we're purposefully having a non-financialized chain, which is very different. You don't see that often, if ever, as far as I'm aware. And that means that we don't have to worry about tokenomics. And we can focus on really building the app, and again, having this sort of flat remuneration with the five dollar subscription.
“There was a lot of good in this network before it got turned into a spy machine. Before the internet became the spy thing, there was a lot of good in it, and Panquake is a big part for us. It's our contribution to try to bring that back a little bit.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien.
DT: And then so what incentivizes the nodes? It's just from this revenue that's coming from the customers?
SO: So to start, we're going to be working with digital rights groups, and basically they're going to be donating us their time, and processing power, and bandwidth, to help build this thing. We've found a number of folks, both through my connections and other people, who work on the project who are willing to do this. Who basically are incentivized because they believe in the dream. Beyond that, we'll see what happens, but it's more than enough to bootstrap this network in the beginning. And we think it's going to be enough for growth of the network as well. Where we go past that, who knows. I mean the other thing is people are going to build on our stuff. So I'm sure people will figure out ways to build their businesses. And, really, we want people to be in Panquake and using Panquake who are thinking creatively in that direction anyway. What we don't want to be is distracted by tokens, coins, ICO's, etc. We don't want, as I'm sure Monero folks are quite aware of… the regulatory environment is changing rapidly in a negative direction for all tokens. Any group that's trying to spin up a token is potentially in trouble with the SEC if they're in the US and so on and so forth. And we don't have to worry about that. We can focus on -
DT: You had mentioned LBRY, right, and they've got issues.
SO: Look what happened there. They had a wonderfully-functioning network, and then they basically were shut down overnight. So it's also the stability aspect of it. You know, as we've seen, coins that have a good, well-defined purpose, that have good communities like Monero has. Those coins last. They outlast, right, all the other coins that are out there. And when times are turbulent, they're still doing just fine. In some cases, being the refuge that people go to, rather than be in other altcoins, for example. If we're going to call them altcoins. I know that's disparaging, but look at all the instability around the so-called stablecoins, you know, etc. We're building. We know what we want to do as far as a mission, and that mission is much more important than worrying about tokens.
DT: So yeah, the idea is that me as a Panquake user, I'm not really incentivized to just go run a node for Panquake, right. That's not, that's not really playing into the ecosystem.
DT: Any, I know this is way down the line plus, but like any potential… adding coins in other ways, like for tipping purposes, perhaps something like a Monero integrated into a Panquake, where you can send Monero tips and things like that?
SO: That's not our focus right now, but of course we'll think about that. I think it would be great. And we need to think about how we can best… cater to that audience. We're hoping, and this is part of the reason we're out doing this kind of outreach to Monerotopia, and these kinds of great podcasts and events. We want folks to come to us and say, ‘hey wouldn't it be great if.’ And then we can have that conversation. But you know, we're very wary of, again, that sort of casino aspect. We just want to be careful. It's great if people are, for example, saying ‘hey donate to me I'm doing this awesome project. Here's my wallet address. Click this button, get a QR code,' whatever that goes on. That’s awesome, but we don't want to be sort of gamifying in a way that creates a negative experience for the network. And turns it into a slot machine, essentially.
DT: Just don't use DOGE, man. Just, just don't, go down that road.
SO: Well I have to admit, I mine both DOGE and LTC, as well as XMR. Just so you know.
DT: DOGE is the first crypto I ever bought in 2013, before I knew anything about crypto.
SO: Well don't you wish you bought more?
DT: Well, that's my story. It gets stolen the day after I bought it, which is what (inaudible)
SO: Oh, geez.
DT: Bitcoin rabbit hole.
SO: Yeah, I always love that meme. So it's one of the first ones I took a serious look at, but I never really did much with it. I love Monero, let me tell you. I'm very happy with performance recently with mining. P2Pool is awesome, and I wish other coins had things like that. I've been playing around, too. I've got a machine actually next to me that I just put new graphics cards in. I'm working on basically doing a little bit of testing of my own between XMRstack and the XMRig stuff to see what the performance is. I'm trying to figure it out. I know that Monero is very much, and I think it's important that they are, into making sure that CPU mining is… how do I say… democratized - but sure why not - democratized [to] such a level that it's not encouraging use of ASICs and so on. But I still want to see if I can crank out a little more from these video cards here.
DT: Yeah, see what you can do. Don't invent the ASIC over there, the Monero ASIC, that would... but if it happens just let me know first.
SO: I know hardware, but I don't know it to that level… nor would I create such an abomination. But I would let you know first.
DT: Yeah, what is your crypto take, man? So I mean you obviously have a very strong background in tech. You know, you understand the importance of privacy and cryptography. What is your overall opinion of crypto? And what you see as being the value proposition, that whole Spiel? Give us your crypto take.
SO: So I taught what I believe is the first class on Web3 at any Ivy League university. I did a one-credit, sort of fun course, this past semester at Yale. And we basically treat… the technologies that are now being sort of lumped under this term “Web3,” cryptocurrency and blockchain being part of that, as reinventing the Web of Trust. And I think these technologies have a ton of potential we haven't even tapped, you know. Every time somebody makes fun of NFT’s, for example, I think about all the things that could be done for authentication and identity and, potentially, you transactions with NFT’s. Every time somebody disparages cryptocurrency in one way or another, because, I don't know, the markets are down, I say ‘hey crypto's on sale.’ I very much believe that this stuff is, it already is reinventing the networks that we use. It's created new models like DAOs, which are sort of, again, embracing the good parts of that old Web. And having sort of a built-in, more democratic way that people can collaborate, and even… be activists. So my take is that it's here to stay. It's reinventing the networks. And Big Tech is, frankly, shitting themselves, which is why you'll have Facebook announce [what is] basically vaporware. They're going to have some next generation network. Nobody knows what it's going to be, right. You're going to see a lot of that, and I don't like the Cloud very much, you know. I like to work on projects that I consider anti-Cloud projects. Moving away from that centralization model. So I'm very bullish on the idea that crypto is reinventing that aspect of the network topology. There's going to be a lot of ups and downs in between. We're seeing them. Certainly this year has been turbulent to say the least, but the network's changing beneath our feet. And either we participate actively, and we build a network we want to see, or we allow Big Tech to regroup and figure out how they're going to own the thing. And they'll work on it I'm sure.
DT: Which blockchains are you most interested in? Which ones do you think are are doing the most interesting things, or actually, you know serving a purpose?
SO: Yeah. So obviously I love Monero. I think anonymity is really important. Any project that can have a high level of privacy when the user wants to have privacy for a transaction on a blockchain, I care about. It's obviously really hard to build these things. We've seen a lot of so-called privacy coins do kind of a bad job in different ways. We've seen some layer twos, of course, have some major issues, but the fact that people are even working on that I think is always laudable. Even when mistakes are made. Anonymity is essential to have speech on the network. And that doesn't mean that everybody should be anonymous all the time, but when someone chooses to be anonymous they should be able to be anonymous. And any projects that push that, I find plenty interesting. I think Ethereum is great with smart contracts, obviously. And everything that's come from that smart contracts idea. You know, all the other now smart contract projects that are out there, that sort of took inspiration from Ethereum. As we see the cost of these transactions for writing applications on top of these blockchains, as we see that costs sort of go down, transaction costs, we're going to see a lot of very interesting stuff being built. I kind of am okay with bear markets in a sense because I tend to see a lot more innovation and ingenuity happen when everybody's not just checking their, what essentially is a stock portfolio… trying to figure out what the price of BTC is at any given moment. When people are innovating and building, and when the coins that survive are the ones that have these strong use cases. I mean, yeah, so what am I looking at? I don't know, people talk to me all the time about all kinds of projects and I try not to give too many ones, you know, my quote-unquote blessing. But certainly I think Monero has a very strong place. Certainly, I don't think BTC is going anywhere anytime soon. I think Ethereum and Solana, and some of these other networks around smart contracts, and applications especially are here to stay. I think… I think Bitcoin Cash is great. I think the idea that we can actually have certain coins that are focusing on spending it as cash, actually spending the token, you know, in day-to-day life, that's really important stuff. GNU Taler, which is something people aren't talking about very much, but this is a new token project that's coming from the free and open source software world, is designed to basically be part of a digital point-of-sale system. And so that token's interesting to me. Yeah, I love it all man.
DT: But what do you, I mean, what does Privacy Lab have to say about Bitcoin's lack of privacy? I mean it's fundamentally transparent, so do they see this potentially as a technology that could lead to more mass surveillance?
SO: Yeah, well that's a problem, right. Chain analysis is a real thing, and a big deal. What people don't talk about, of course, is these ginormous data farms out there. The Utah Data Center that the NSA is running et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. They not only don't talk about it… in the sense of it existing, they don't talk about in the sense of environmental impact, and all these other criticisms that have been levied against cryptocurrencies. So my take on a lot of that is, ‘Sure, we're going to have problems with public ledgers.’ Essentially, records of transactions that can be followed to trace, you know, someone's communication or payments etc., etc. And we're going to have that problem for a long time in blockchain. But you know, I think that we're going to figure out a lot of those wrinkles. If we're allowed to, I think we're going to come up with methods where people can have what we would consider a reasonable amount of privacy, while still having that verification on the ledger. There's a lot of folks working on all that stuff with, you know, multisig and zk-SNARKs and everything else. And I think we will get there. Certainly in my world, you know, in academia at least, that world… there's a healthy - perhaps unhealthy depending on your perspective - amount of skepticism around blockchain. It was the butt of jokes for a while. That's happening much less so, now. I think that as these technologies become more mainstream and more entrenched in people's daily experience, you're going to find less of that. I want people to be private when they want to be private, and be public when they want to be public, certainly. I put my face out there. I wasn't too hard to find when you did hear of me, right. And you can probably find a lot of what I've said and done, and people I've worked with and so on. It is really important for people to be empowered by their technology. And part of that empowerment is going to be revealing at least some aspects of their identity, and some of the things they're up to. But it's also important conversely, you know, when the public needs to know, for example, that their government is doing something atrocious, or some corporation's doing something atrocious, or something else has gone on that just, we're not aware of that people should be aware of. They need that anonymity... That's a strength for them to be able to have the power to publish. So, I know I'm going off on a tangent here. I don't find blockchain incompatible with this in any specific way. You know, HTML and websites are… public, right. We had less of an idea of needing privacy in the early days of the internet because we weren't surveilled by these massive entities. People had handles that just had their birth date in them. You know, people spoke pretty openly on Usenet. Especially if you go back and look at some of those posts about a wide variety of topics that are certainly not allowed to be spoken about these days in Big Tech world, or really lots of other places. So I don't necessarily see that as incompatible. The Web of Trust thing. I just do want to go back to, quickly, and I know we're probably going over time. But what's really awesome, I think, about these technologies, and what really sold me on them was, encryption can be used for, of course, confidentiality, but it can also be used for verification. And cryptocurrencies have always gotten this mix right. They have different purposes, but you know different coins do different things. Different projects do different things. But that model is the promise of the Web that we were talking about in the late 90s, in the early 2000s, right. You'd have a keyserver somewhere. You could verify someone's public key. They hold onto the private key. Again, holding onto their data, holding onto their wallet, holding onto their Panquake user store. And you can still verify and have a conversation with them. Send them something confidential. So you have the strong verification of their identity. They can have multiple identities and be multiple people to multiple folks for different contexts. Just like when we go out in the world. We are different people to different folks. You know, I say things in a personal context. I say things in a public context. I cater my message to different audiences. And this is not something we should be ashamed of. Certainly if we're able to get, you know, even just personal key management, which is really what wallets are about. If we're able to get individuals, normal quote-unquote “mainstream” users, average users, whatever we want to call them. If we can get them to use things like MetaMask. If we can get them to use these things and be comfortable with them, then they are that much closer to owning their data and not having to dox themselves everywhere they go. And I think the new generation is going to get that right. You know, we're seeing it in gen Z and… assuming we have another generation after that, I'm not always so sure… [but] I'm sure they will get it right as well.
“When the public needs to know, for example, that their government is doing something atrocious, or some corporation's doing something atrocious, or something else has gone on that just, we're not aware of that people should be aware of. They need that anonymity.” - Panquake CSA, Sean O’Brien
DT: Very cool man, very cool. Is Monero spoken about at Privacy Lab at all? Is these things that are discussed?
SO: Sure. Yeah, so I always try to make sure I'm recommending a basket of tools, or basket of coins in this case. So I'm not, you know, hyper-promoting one project over another. But absolutely. Monero is always the coin people talk about when they're thinking seriously about privacy. I think ZCash might have had that advantage a little while ago, but lesser-so, and I'm sure the Monero folks know more than I do about why that's…
DT: Yeah, I know it'd be cool to collaborate with the Privacy Lab in some way to get Monero devs collaborating with you guys, like presenting, or I don't know…
SO: At the very least you start with the presentation. And see [if you can] whet peoples' appetite. Like I said, this was just a small one-credit reading group we were doing on Web3, and people were practically knocking down my digital door, let's say, trying to get into this thing… and they're basically volunteering their time, you know. Every week I brought in different speakers. We went through the whole, history [related to] blockchain and cryptocurrencies. But also some other technologies, like distributed data stores, like Tor and other mix networks. We related those back to the earlier battles. Especially during the so-called Encryption Wars in the late 90s and early 2000s. And, you know, folks were… I was pleasantly surprised. So yeah, I'd love to do that. I think it would be great to bring in speakers. And yeah, let me know. Hit me up. I'm around.
DT: Cool. Definitely will, man. So yeah, I say this wraps up the interview portion of the show. Anything you want to get out there now, like resources where people can follow?
DT: All that jazz.
SO: I want to make sure, of course, I'm plugging Panquake again. And I am shameless about that because I really believe in this project. So please go out to Panquake.com, check it out. If you would like to donate and support the project, that's great. Those donations are going towards really important work around, you know, supporting the users that we're going to bring in. We want to make sure the experience for folks there is great. Panquake.com will also do probably a better job than I did explaining the model. No advertising. Free. Not selling user data… transparent moderation and all that. Go in there, dig through, look at the old videos, of stuff that we've said in the past, and make sure you reach out to us if you're interested in the work I do around Privacy Lab, etc. You can find me, of course, all over the internet, but you can go out to privacylab.yale.edu, and you can just drop me a line. Happy to talk.
DT: Thank you for joining us on this week's episode. We release new episodes every week. You can find and subscribe to our show on YouTube, Odyssee, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Go to monerotalk.live to subscribe for a full list of places where you can watch and listen. If you want to interact with us, guests or other podcast listeners, you can follow us on Twitter. And please leave us a review on iTunes. It helps people find the show and we are always happy to read them. So thanks so much, and we look forward to being back next week. Thank you.
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